Location: Diafarabé, Mali
Dates: Late December or early January; dates aren’t set until November
Level of participation: 1 – watch a cattle drive like no other
All across central Mali from November, visitors will see Fula herders and their vast herds closing in on the Niger River, readying themselves for one of West Africa’s most picturesque annual rituals. When the river levels are just right, the town of Diafarabé is transformed into a hive of activity, as hundreds of thousands of cows are driven southwards and across the Niger River to greener pastures.
The crossing is a time of relief for the Fula herders, who have been on the fringes of the Sahara for many months. The crossing reunites the herders with their families and is a time to celebrate with music and dance. Fula women adorn themselves with all their ritual gold and amber finery, working tirelessly on tizzing their hair. The men paint and decorate their favourite animal to see who will win the prize for the finest and fattest beast.
Essentials: The exact timing of the crossing depends on water levels, so check around in Djenné or at the Mopti tourist office to try to ascertain dates.
Local attractions: Nearby Djenné is one of the premier tourist attractions in West Africa, with a great market set to a backdrop of the town’s mosque, which is the largest mud-built structure in the world.
See other festivals in December here.